Christian Blackshaw at the Wigmore Hall

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
  • Fantasia in D minor K397
  • Rondo in D K485
  • Adagio in B minor K540
  • Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
  • Piano Sonata in D D850 Allegro-Con moto-Scherzo:Allegro vivace-Trio-Rondo:Allegro moderato

My old teacher Gordon Green often used to talk about his star student Christian Blackshaw and news travelled fast when he was the first UK student to be accepted to study at St.Petersburg Conservatory and also won the Casella International Competition in Naples in Italy.
After my student days I lost touch with the concert world in London – this was before the advent of internet.I married an Italian actress and we gave birth to a very demanding son in the form of Teatro Ghione – a theatre in the centre of Rome.Thirty years spent with stage productions and as a sideline a concert season – Euromusica of more than 60 concerts a year with many artists young and old able to be heard in Rome that was sadly lacking in concert venues in that period.
We became in Italy what the Wigmore Hall is today- a centre of excellence in Europe.With the advent of internet though I was able to see programmes of all the major venues worldwide and was very pleased to see the name of Christian Blackshaw with his Mozart being promoted by the Wigmore Hall ,as they had done for Mitsuko Uchida or Andras Schiff.
I wondered why he had not made more of an international name for himself since his auspicious early days mentored by no less than Clifford Curzon.I later learned of the tragic death of his wife and deciding that his duty as a father,with three small daughters,took precedence over career.
I learnt only recently that his late wife was the star pupil of Fanny Waterman that I remember playing in Dame Fanny’s showcase masterclass on the Southbank,exclaiming that the copy of the Chopin B minor Sonata was the third one that she and Nicola Gebolys had got through.
So it was a treat to be able to hear Christian playing Mozart.Looking more like Liszt than Mozart but when he touched the keys I understood immediately why such a perfectionist as Clifford Curzon had taken him under his wing.

Three short works by Mozart placed together to form a whole.Not quite a sonata as the excellent presenter Ian Kelly suggested because the group started with the Fantasia in D minor and ended with the Adagio in B minor taking in the Rondo in D as the central movement.The Fantasia immediately showed his exquisite phrasing and very careful pedalling that only added colour without smudging the crystal clear notes that he was so carefully shaping.A sense of improvisation pervaded the opening with a freedom allied to the flexibility of the human voice.The simplicity of the final rondo was truly of a child like innocence so difficult to capture,as Curzon’s teacher Schnabel is often quoted as saying.A surprise return to the opening fantasie improvisation gave a wonderfully satisfying ending to this seemingly simple piece and allowed the opening cloud to cast its shadow upon the proceedings again.I wonder if there is some mention of this ending in Mozart’s letters that Christian had discovered and like Beethoven’s 4th piano concerto where the opening chord Beethoven mentioned that he spread gives an authenticity to a not usual performing practice in these days of absolute faithfulness to the original score!The Rondo in D was played with absolute charm with the appoggiatura type phrasing so reminiscent of the much missed Clifford Curzon’s impeccably refined playing.Articulation and voice like inflections in a piece that we have heard many times in piano lessons but very rarely brought to life in such a joyous way.The Adagio in B minor one of Mozart’s most profound works is also one of his shortest.Mozart could express so much with so little where every note has a significance never more so than in this piece written towards the end of his short life.There was a great sense of time standing still in Christian’s performance where every phrase was given time to breathe so naturally.It was a great treat on the Wigmore’s superb streaming to be able to see with what care his fingers articulated like a Swiss clock hammer just carefully striking the keys and producing such magic out of the few notes actually written on the page.Every strand was given its just weight as in a string quartet.The opening theme moving to the bass before the beseeching question and answer that followed.The refreshing simplicity of the melody that magically emerges from Mozart’s pen after some almost too serious questioning chords.Time stood still in a performance of pure magic where Mozart’s 57 bars were doubled in a performance to quote the poet Shakespeare :’if music be the food of love – play on.’

The other work on the programme was the Sonata in D by Schubert known as the Gasteiner,as it was written during August 1825 whilst the composer was staying in the spa town of Bad Gastein .A year later it became only the second of three of his piano sonatas to be published in his lifetime.Four movements in which Christian observed all the repeats pushing Schubert’s sublime length maybe to the limit.Andras Schiff says that if the composer wrote repeats who are we mere performers to know better?Others suggest that it was the form to repeat certain sections and that if the composer really meant it he would write 1. and 2 .over the bar line.The first movement was played with driving rhythm and crystal clear articulation in this very busy opening movement.Exquisite phrasing and attention to the minutest detail much as I remember from Curzon’s famous recording or Perahia’s memorable performance that I heard in Rovigo – a beautiful town in the north of Italy.There was in both these performances the contrast between Floristan and Eusebius (to borrow from Schumann) that gave a more satisfying architectural shape.Christian concentrated more on the Eusebius side with such exquisite things as in his Mozart but missed the great sweep that a work of over 30 minutes needs.Schubert’s rarely writes double forte or double sforzandi,but here he does,and Christian diluted them down to suite his vision of poetic beauty at the expense of the real storm und drang.A sumptuous string chamber orchestra but where are the wind,the brass and percussion ?

The ‘con moto’ slow movement was played with such beauty especially when the theme returns in the left hand with barely hinted shadowing from the right that was truly a sublime moment to cherish.The coda too was absolute magic in this poet’s delicate hands.The contrast in the Scherzo between the march like opening and the delicate ländler reply was beautifully shaped as was the subtle rubato in the Viennese waltz type passage that follows.The pianissimo chords of the trio were played with delicate sumptuous sounds.The almost clock like simplicity of the Rondo was played just a pointedly as I remember from Curzon with an irresistible simplicity and charm that is ever more elaborate on its return until the perpetuum mobile played with an astonishing jeux perlé to the final impish comment.Much as Rachmaninov does a century later in his Paganini Rhapsody signing off after breathtaking antics with such childish simplicity.


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